One the questions I was asked upon my return was if I ever experienced or saw things that were disturbing to me. Not counting the big differences of disparity of economic wealth in our modern society and white privilege, human trafficking, lack of clean drinking water (even in capital cities), modern slavery and a variety of other ills that are a fact of life in many places, there were several incidents that stand out in my mind because they were so personal to each of these people. They were shocking to me partly because they were so sudden, and I was right there.
When originally writing this, I was reluctant to name some of the places where some negative things happened, but I had committed that I would share what I learned with people who cared enough to read my blog.
In the capital city of Kathmandu, Nepal, a city of 3 million people (unreliable electricity, few stop signs and fewer road signs), I was in a cab.
We were driving along and on the side of the road were tiny rooms/shacks/homes made out of whatever a person could find; corrugated metal, plywood etc. Two grown men were fighting just inches from my door. As we passed, one grabbed the other by the hair in one hand, and in his other hand was a stone a bit larger than his fist. He was swinging the rock in it and pounding the guy who was caught by his hair in the head who struggled and twisted, squirming away as best he could. I was horrified and shocked. I stuttered as I exclaimed to the cab driver, “Oh my God, that guy is hitting the other man in the head with a big rock! This could kill that man!“ Cabbie’s response was a chuckle and he remarked, “ha ha ha, that guy sure is angry”. We continued driving.
Another incident took place while I was waiting on the train platform in Naples, Italy. An older woman had collapsed on the concrete floor and a male passenger was giving her CPR while the rest of the crowd stood by helplessly as the her life was about to change. It was weird to know that I learned information that her family did not know about yet, and it was such an intimate moment. She could only wait for what was going to be, she had no power over her circumstances. Her purse stood at attention beside her, and I spent the rest of the day wondering what she would have done differently that morning if she knew that a few hours later she would be laying on the concrete surrounded by strangers.
In Istanbul, Turkey (the European side) we were driving through a very wealthy area, where people were educated and at the top of the economic status. It was a weekend morning and lots of people were walking around, enjoying the beautiful sunny day. A couple were walking on the sidewalk and it looked like the man was about to kiss the woman. As he turned toward her, instead of kissing her, his arm shot up and he grabbed her around her throat in anger. Her eyes widened in surprised, and I gasped as we drove by, stammering to the my hosts who were driving “Did you see that? He grabbed her by the throat!” They were shocked too, and when we discussed domestic violence, they informed me that in Turkey, if someone were to report domestic violence to the police, the police would probably not do anything, and say it was a domestic problem ; to go home and solve the problem yourselves. Further conversations with other people confirmed that society would blame the girl/wife for any problems. As a matter of fact, that is the common joke. No matter what the problem is, it is the wife’s fault.
Some disturbing things are the same all over the world; domestic violence crosses all boundaries and no one gets out of this life alive. By traveling and meeting dozens of people every day, I was able to observe many things in life I don’t normally experience in my ordinary working life spending the days with a handful of work colleagues each day.